A Drink or Two with a Spy

I’ve just written a novel about espionage, and alcohol played a large part in it (What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU).  Cat and Rafe meet while drunk in a San Francisco bar.  He is employed by the NSA in government surveillance and she’s a twentysomething whose life is spinning out of control.  They have a harrowing drunken evening, and in the morning, Cat is so distressed about what she looks like and what she doesn’t remember that she gets sober.

Of course, spies have always been associated with alcohol.  James Bond, for example, is always holding a martini, shaken not stirred.

Real-life spies,  however, have been more realistically involved with alcohol.  Take Kim Philby, the Cambridge student who shook Britain.

Bob Greer variation 2aPhilby was one of the most destructive spies of all time.  Philby became a Soviet spy in 1934, and then joined the British intelligence service MI5.  Soon, he recruited other British spies, including  Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.  Within 20 years, Philby had risen to the high position of chief of British intelligence in Washington, D.C., and was passing along to the Soviets some of the most closely guarded secrets of both the Americans and the Brits.

By the early 1960s, Philby came under close scrutiny as a spy, and in 1963, while in Beirut, he jumped on a Russian steamer and fled behind the Iron Curtain.  Moscow has calculated that Philby, Burgess, and Maclean had supplied more than 20,000 pages of valuable classified documents to the Soviet Union.

Philby’s double life, however, was filled to overflowing with stresses, and he used alcohol to medicate them.

As British intelligence began piecing together Philby’s possible betrayals, he increasingly turned to alcohol, resulting in massive hangovers and depressions.  When an MI5 investigator interviewed him in 1962, he was too drunk to stand and had a bandaged head, the result of repeated falls, the final one cracking his skull when his head hit a bathroom radiator.

After Philby was safely in Moscow, he roamed around Russia “on a series of almost suicidal drinking bouts which sometimes left him oblivious of where he was, uncertain whether it was night or day.”  (The Sword and the Shield, p. 417)  His drinking lessened when he met and married a Moscow editor named Rufina in 1971, but then increased again.  He would start drinking at 6 pm exactly, and an hour later, a stupid look would emerge over his face and his eyes would glaze over.  Sometimes during the night, he would wake up screaming.  If he couldn’t get back to sleep, he would chain-smoke, sometimes burning things when he dropped off to sleep again and the cigarette fell from his fingers.  (The Secret Life of Kim Philby, pp. 63 – 64)

Donald Maclean turned to drink, as well.  In 1950 in Paris, he and a drinking buddy broke into the flat of two female members of the U.S. Embassy, ransacked their bedroom, tore apart their undergarments, and then moved to the bathroom.  There, Maclean raised a large mirror above his head and hurled it into the bathtub.  To their surprise, the tub split apart but the mirror remained intact.

A few days later, Maclean was ordered to begin psychiatric treatment.  He was diagnosed with overwork, marital problems, and repressed homosexuality.  Three months later, he was made head of the American desk in the Foreign Office. (The Sword and the Shield, pp. 154 – 155).

Another epic drinker was Reino Hayhanen.  In 1952, Hayhanen arrived in New York City under an assumed name.  He would often call unwanted attention to himself by engaging in heavy drinking and having violent quarrels with his wife.  In 1955, he was assigned the task of delivering $5,000 to the wife of a member of the Rosenberg spy ring.  He told his superiors he did so, but in fact kept it.

Early the next year, Hayhanen and his wife fought so drunkenly and loudly that neighbors called the police.  When they arrived at his Peekskill, New York, home, they found both Hayhanens drunk and Reino with a deep knife wound in his leg.  He said it was “an accident.”  Later that year, he was found guilty of drunk driving and had his license suspended.  The following year, Hayhanen was recalled to Moscow, but instead, defected.  (The Sword and the Shield, pp. 171 – 172)

Perhaps it’s the lies that spies must tell that drive them to drink.  Perhaps it’s the double lives.  Either way, it’s clearly an occupational hazard.


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